History of the McGovern Institute

The creation of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research was made possible by the vision and generosity of Patrick J. McGovern ’59 and Lore Harp McGovern, whose pledge of $350 million is one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the history of higher education. The McGoverns envisioned an institute whose ultimate goal would be to understand the human brain in health and disease.

On February 28, 2000, MIT’s President Charles M. Vest announced the formation of the McGovern Institute and the selection of founding director, Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel laureate and professor of biology at MIT. Robert Desimone succeeded Sharp as director in 2004. Desimone had previously served six years as the scientific director of the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health, the largest mental health research center in the world.

In the fall of 2005, the McGovern Institute moved into its spacious facilities in the new Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex. The Institute has grown from six founding faculty members to 17 full investigators and 4 associate investigators.

Timeline of events




  • McGovern Investigator H. Robert Horvitz shares the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his work on the genetic control of cell death.
  • Emilio Bizzi is named Institute Professor.


  • Construction begins on the new Brain and Cognitive Sciences complex, future home to the McGovern Institute, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and the MIT department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
  • With support from Merck & Co., the McGovern Institute establishes the Edward M. Scolnick prize, to be awarded annually in recognition of an outstanding contribution to neuroscience research.
  • Michael Fee and Christopher Moore appointed as McGovern Investigators.


  • Robert Desimone succeeds Phillip Sharp as director of the McGovern Institute.
  • Susan Hockfield, a neuroscientist, becomes the sixteenth president of MIT.
  • Alan Jasanoff becomes an associate investigator of the McGovern Institute.



  • The Martinos Imaging Center at MIT, which is housed within the McGovern Institute, acquires a 3-Tesla MRI scanner for human neuroimaging research.
  • McGovern Institute Neurotechnology (MINT) Program is established. The MINT program supports collaborations between neuroscientists and researchers from other disciplines to develop new technologies for brain research.
  • Emilio Bizzi is elected President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Faculty member Ki Ann Goosens joins the Institute.




  • Planning begins for a magnetoencephalography (MEG) lab to be housed within the Martinos Imaging Center. Acquisition of the new scanner is supported by a NSF instrumentation grant and by several philanthropic donors.



  • Feng Zhang joins the McGovern Institute faculty, with a joint appointment at Broad Institute.
  • Chris Moore leaves the McGovern Institute to become a tenured professor at Brown University.
  • Plans are announced to strengthen the institute’s collaborations with colleagues in China through the establishment of three new IDG-McGovern Institutes, at Tsinghua University, Peking University and Beijing Normal University.
  • With support from Biogen Idec, the institute establishes an annual lecture in honor of Phillip Sharp, founding director of the McGovern Institute and a cofounder of Biogen.


  • Rebecca Saxe becomes an associate investigator of McGovern Institute.
  • McGovern Investigator Jim Dicarlo is named chair of MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
  • Ann Graybiel shares the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.



  • Co-founder Patrick McGovern passes away on March 19.
  • The first US patent is issued for the engineered CRISPR-Cas9 system, which allows researchers to edit the genomes of living cells and organisms. McGovern Investigator Feng Zhang is the inventor, and the patent is assigned jointly to the Broad Institute, where Zhang is a core member, and to MIT.
  • Feng Zhang wins the Waterman Award from NSF and a Young Investigator award from the Society for Neuroscience.
  • The institute establishes the OpenMind high-performance computing cluster as a shared resource for the MIT neuroscience community.
  • Four teams from McGovern Institute are among the first recipients of BRAIN Initiative grants from NIH– more than any other institution.


  • Mark Harnett joins the McGovern faculty.
  • McGovern Institute establishes a partnership with Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology in China to develop new genetic models for brain disorders research.
  • Ed Boyden wins a Breakthrough Prize for the development of optogenetics.


  • Feng Zhang shares the Canada Gairdner Award and Tang Prize for development of CRISPR genome editing technology
  • A suspended neuron sculpture, titled Schwerpunkt (‘focal point’), is installed within the Institute’s entrance on Main Street.  The sculpture, by Ralph Helmick, was commissioned with the help of a gift from Hugo Shong in memory of Pat McGovern.
  • Another sculpture, SCIENTIA by Ursula von Rydingsvard, is installed outside the Institute’s entrance.  The 24-foot bronze sculpture was commissioned by Lore McGovern as a gift to MIT’s public art collection.
  • Feng Zhang was one of five CRISPR researchers named as runners-up for TIME Magazine’s 2016 Person of the Year


  • Feng Zhang is appointed as the inaugural holder of a new named professorship, endowed by Jim and Pat Poitras, longtime supporters of the McGovern Institute.
  • Lisa Yang and Hock Tan ’75 SM ’75 make a $20M commitment to the McGovern Institute to establish the Tan-Yang Center for Autism Research. The new center will support research into the biological basis of autism and the development of new approaches to treatment.
  • Feng Zhang wins the 2017 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest cash prize for invention in the United States.
  • Ed Boyden is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors.
  • Emilio Bizzi becomes Professor emeritus.
  • Michael Halassa becomes an associate investigator of the McGovern Institute.